Blair on Miliband's speech: "I’m not going to comment on the policy"

The former PM's silence is evidence of his scepticism.

While he hasn't gone as far as his old comrade-in-arms Peter Mandelson, who warned that Ed Miliband's energy price freeze risked taking Labour "backwards", Tony Blair has signalled his unease with Ed Miliband's policy agenda. He told Sky News:

I’m not really going to comment on Ed’s conference speech. It seemed to go down very well with people and was excellently delivered, I think. But I’m not going to comment on the policy.

He added:

He’s got the job of being leader of the opposition. I did that job for three years, I know how tough it is, I’m not going to get in his way.

Blair's explicit refusal to comment is strong evidence of his opposition to the policy. When he supports Miliband, as in the case of trade union reform, he says so

But with the exception of Blair, it is striking that not one Labour figure has echoed Mandelson's concerns, with many rebutting him (see Stephen Twigg's piece on The Staggers). Alastair Campbell, for instance, tweeted: "Peter M wrong re energy policy being shift to left. It is putting consumer first v anti competitive force. More New Deal than old Labour".

Elsewhere, Andrew Adonis has smartly noted that energy companies similarly threatened to withdraw investment when New Labour announced its windfall tax on them. He tweeted: "Labour's windfall tax 'will undermine our ability to invest, affect jobs and increase prices.' Yorkshire Electricity 1996 on Tony Blair" and "We may have to cut our investment programme if we face a windfall tax.' London Electricity 1996". 

And as the FT's economics editor Chris Giles points out, "Even though the Labour party cannot know how much utility bills would go up without the freeze, it is nevertheless saying that households would see a £120 benefit. If true, that is the equivalent of a £3bn tax on energy companies – which is smaller than the £5.2bn windfall tax the Blair government imposed on the utilities in 1997."

Tony Blair talks with Ed Miliband during a Loyal Address service to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee at Westminster Hall. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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